Officials even ran out of ballots for Westchester – Playa races, where voter participation increased fivefold over two years ago

By Gary Walker

Voters turned out in such high numbers for one Westside neighborhood council election on Sunday that the polling place ran out of ballots.

With many crediting expanded voter outreach as well as community concern about growth and development, the Venice and Westchester – Playa neighborhood councils tallied some of the highest participation totals in the city.

After a dismal 214-person turnout in Westchester – Playa two years ago, about five times as many ballots — 1,135 — were cast this year, among the highest in the region. About half an hour before polls closed at 4 p.m., officials were forced to employ emergency ballots.

“This is a sign of a successful election,” Stephen Box, director of outreach and communication for the city Dept. of Neighborhood Empowerment,  which oversees the administration of neighborhood councils, announced to voters waiting in line.

In Venice, turnout was lower than two years ago but still very high, according to Dept. of Neighborhood Empowerment totals. This year there were 1,542 ballots cast in the Venice elections, compared to 1,622 in the last election.

Mar Vista and Del Rey, however, saw very small turnouts of 215 and 141 voters, respectively.

As in the previous election cycle for Westside neighborhood councils, some incumbents lost seats to newcomers and board members who had previously stepped down were elected to serve once again.

In Westchester – Playa, incumbents Craig Eggers and Kathryn Evans lost their reelection bids while most other incumbents, including board President Cyndi Hench, retained their seats.

In Venice, the upset of the day was the contest for head of the Land Use and Planning Committee, which oversees hearing about local developments. In that race, Robin Rudisill beat Jim Murez by a total of 646 votes to 490.

Venice incumbents Erin Sullivan-Ward, Scott Kramarich and Marissa Solomon also lost their reelection bids. Mike Newhouse was reelected by a landslide and former council members Jed Pauker, Joe Murphy and Kelley Wills won their way back onto the board.

In Mar Vista, only one race was contested and all incumbents won reelection.

In Del Rey, incumbent Renae Paonessa was defeated by Thomas Taylor by a margin of 53 votes to 16. All other incumbents were reelected — some of them by racking up as little as seven, four and just two votes.

In sharp contrast, voters strolled through the Westchester Municipal Building throughout the day, several of them discussing concerns about plans by LAX to move its northern runway closer to neighborhoods.

“Issues and outreach are the reasons why we had such a great turnout [on the Westside],” said Alisa Smith, an election administrator.

“The turnout exceeded my greatest expectations,” said Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa Vice President Mark Redick, who was also the council’s elections committee chair. “We did a lot of outreach to get people to come out to vote. A lot of constituents told me that they were voting for the very first time in this election, and the fact that we ran out of ballots showed how interested our community was. This was a great demonstration of grassroots democracy in action.”